WASHINGTON — Dockworkers were fully back on the job at the Port of New York and New Jersey on Monday after a one-day walkout on Friday temporarily shut down the facilities, raising concerns in the business community about future disruptions.
More than 1,000 dockworkers, members of the International Longshoremen’s Association, reportedly walked off the job and temporarily shut down the major terminals at one of the nation’s third-busiest port for about nine hours on Friday. But dockworkers started returning to work Friday night after an arbitrator ruled the work stoppage violated a no-strike provision in its bargaining contract, according to the New York Shipping Association, which represents six terminal operators at the port, as well as ocean carriers.
Retailers, who are dependent on the New York-New Jersey port for goods largely coming from Europe, Africa and South America, said Monday they are still concerned about the situation even though port operations were back up and running. The multiple-dock, bistate authority handles more than $200 billion worth of cargo annually.
“This came out of nowhere. There wasn’t any advance warning,” said Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs policy at the National Retail Federation. “You usually get a feeling when something is about to happen, but this took everybody by surprise.”
Gold said the impact of a one-day stoppage should be “pretty minimal” for retailers, but companies will have to continue to evaluate their supply chains.
“If this is an ongoing threat, people will have to evaluate how they use the port,” he said, noting they may be forced to look for alternatives.
The collective bargaining agreement between the ILA and NYSA on the East Coast does not expire until September 2018, Gold noted.
The two sides started negotiations on a contract extension last year, largely to avoid what happened on the West Coast in 2015, he said. A dispute on the West Coast lasted 10 months and caused major congestion and delays at 29 Pacific ports early last year. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union, representing nearly 20,000 dockworkers, and the Pacific Maritime Association, representing 72 cargo carriers and terminal operators, reached a five-year agreement last February and ratified it in May.
“The management does not want to repeat what happened on the West Coast,” Gold said. “They started the conversation earlier this time to avoid those issues and get an extension that would provide more stability on the East Coast, but now we’ve got this blow-up and it has put a lot of doubt into peoples’ minds.”
Jessica Dankert, senior director of retail operations at the Retail Industry Leaders Association, said, “New York-New Jersey is a huge gateway for a lot of companies, not just retailers. It is a huge linchpin in the U.S. economy. Something that could disrupt it to this magnitude when no one is even sure what exactly happened is concerning. There are a lot of opinions about what [triggered the walkout], but the fact is this came as such a surprise and out of nowhere, which is concerning.”
Part of what is driving the concern is that the issues appear muddled and they vary depending on which stakeholder is outlining them.
Beverly Fedorko, director of external affairs at the NYSA, said the ILA and NYSA held discussions Friday when trying to end the walkout over several outstanding issues involving chassis, jurisdiction, hiring and technology.
“Has anything changed other than the fact that the leadership of the shipping association and union spoke on Friday? No. They went back to work, which was what they needed to do. They did precisely what they were asked to do,” Fedorko said. “The issues that were raised are going to be addressed in a priority fashion. I have spoken with RILA and NRF and everyone is apprised of the issues. We are working very closely with that community as part of our performance task force.”
An ILA spokesman confirmed Monday that everything was “back to normal” by Friday evening.
“The action was taken by membership — our ILA leadership has pledged to look into reasons for their walk out and resolve those issues,” he said.
Another possible reason for the walkout that has been reported was the ILA’s potential strained relationship with the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, which regulates hiring of dockworkers.